Occasionally I turn on Fox News. There is something about the way it is so brazenly partisan that fascinates me.
To someone who occasionally under appreciates the enforced neutrality of the BBC and the general objectivity of our other broadcast media (yes, even Sky News), Fox News is a useful way to reset my critical compass.
There is no-one as odious, sanctimonious and downright unpleasant as Bill O’Reilly. America is an incredible country of opportunity. It is politically and culturally diverse and its landscapes and cityscapes can be awe-inspiringly beautiful. Its people are a remarkable testament to optimism and hard graft. O’Reilly, however, is the caricature that misinforms so many British and European views of Americans.
His bigoted ignorance and his resort to insult to ‘win’ arguments make for entertaining current affairs television. He also encapsulates the fantasy of that small, but vocal and influential section of the population who are angry, middle-aged, wealthy white men: gun-toting, church-going, apple-pie loving, R&B listening, testosterone-driven conservatives who cloak their prejudices (and insecurities) beneath a trumpeting of values and freedoms that they hate extending to those who are not like them.
Unpleasant as these characteristics are to many, none disqualify you as a journalist. What does destroy your credibility, however, is screwing around with the truth.
Bill O’Reilly has been caught with his metaphorical pants down and it is not a pleasant sight.
Like veteran NBC news anchor Brian Williams, he has apparently lied about his experiences as a ‘war’ reporter, including in El Salvador and the Falklands War. It was this latter assertion that prompted me to write, as his coverage has the potential to influence the views of our closest ally on that conflict and how it was conducted.
This article in Mother Jones started off the furore. Subsequent reports in the Washington Post reveal quite how serious O’Reilly’s position is. More recent reports still are suggesting that Fox has stopped defending O’Reilly.
It couldn’t have happened to a nicer man.
The USA is a liberal democracy and, like Britain, proud of its raucous, chaotic free press. And so it should be. But truth should not be a casualty of war in a liberal democracy, particularly amongst those who claim to uphold the torch of press freedom. We have to be able to have confidence in those who report on what is happening in government and between governments.
If these revelations result in the final dispatch of Bill O’Reilly, both our democracies will be stronger for it.
The Green Party and Natalie Bennett: amateurish disorganisation disguising a dangerous political con
To say that Green Party leader Natalie Bennett has had a catastrophic twenty-four hours somehow doesn’t quite convey how disastrous her performances have been. Were the election TV debates ever likely to happen, the prep teams for the other political party leaders would be rubbing their hands with glee.
February 24th was the day that the Green Party launched their election campaign. No doubt she and her colleagues were looking forward to taking advantage of the publicity they have gained by attempting to convince the media that having one MP in one part of the United Kingdom (and control of a council in the same part of the world that they regularly seem to disown), makes them a national political force to be reckoned with.
Exposure also brings scrutiny, however. Natalie Bennett’s appalling interviews yesterday, combined with the bizarre attempts to prevent reporters asking questions about their policies at yesterday’s campaign launch, should make any sensible, intelligent person think twice before voting for the Green Party – particularly if they care about the environment. For what was exposed yesterday was Bennett and the Green Party’s very cynical and deliberate attempts to mislead the public and deceive voters into giving them their vote.
The morning began with an interview on the Today programme in which Bennett effectively called for Britain to appease a dangerous Russian leader ahead of maintaining its commitments to international law and human rights.
No matter that there is widespread concern that he is seeking to destabilise a sovereign country. No matter that he may have his eyes set on other countries who had to shake off the yoke of Communism in order to exercise the democratic freedoms that Bennett appears to take for granted. Like Farage in the European Election debates with Nick Clegg, Bennett appeared to become an apologist for a regime that abuses human rights, that is supremely intolerant of members of the LGBT+ communities, that has casual and alarming disregard for the rules of international law, and which uses oil and gas as tools to subvert the energy security of other countries.
From the BBC, Bennett went on to LBC and an interview with veteran interviewer Nick Ferrari. This was an opportunity for the Green Party to showcase their central pledge of providing 500,000 homes by 2020. The appeal of this should be obvious to anyone. There is a crisis of availability of affordable homes and any political party seeking to address the concerns of the electorate, and particularly younger voters, needs to have serious and credible policies on housing.
Bennett’s performance is being widely credited as among the worst in political history. If that is an exaggeration it is not much of one, as this excerpt on housing policy reveals.
It is extraordinary that the leader of a political party should go into a major broadcast interview so spectacularly unprepared. It was also a shame the interview wasn’t allowed to run on. Policies on housing, as a key concern of voters, deserves the highest levels of scrutiny to ensure credibility. Having demonstrated that Bennett (and presumably the Green Party) has no clue about the costs of building a house, couldn’t show how their 500,000 houses would be paid for, and couldn’t even manage basic arithmetic, Ferrari asked about how the land would be paid for. The idea that these homes would actually need to be built somewhere clearly hadn’t even occurred to Bennett.
It is not unreasonable for us to ask where the Green Party intends to build these homes. In five years’ time, under a Green Party government, there would be 500,000 new homes. The issue of affordability is greatest in the South, South East and South West of England where land is scarcer and battles often hard fought by local community groups trying to protect small ‘green lungs’ that are threatened by central government directives on housing. Will land be compulsorily purchased and homeowners evicted so that denser housing can be provided (as happened with the New Town developments of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s)? Will councils be made to use environmentally sensitive sites where other supplies of land are exhausted? Will targets to achieve 500,000 homes be set centrally or locally?
There are other questions, too, beyond how the Green Party pay for this house-building programme, where they are going to be built and how they acquire the land. How do they intend to mitigate the massive environmental cost of building so rapidly on such a scale? How have they quantified and assessed the likely lorry movements, carbon emissions, materials etc? In so far as anyone can make any sense of Bennett’s figures, the Green Party are not intending to spend much on each house. So what environmental standards are they going to be built to, in terms of materials and emissions?
None of these questions are reasons to not build houses. They are, however, the sorts of questions that voters should feel able to ask of a party that claims to want to protect our environment, whilst promising spectacular house-building figures. They are also the sorts of questions that need answers if a policy is going to have any sort of credibility in a political debate.
You could be forgiven for thinking that the launch of a political party’s general election campaign might be a good place to start asking those questions. However, bizarrely, it seems that the last thing the Green Party want to do is answer questions on their policies. The various newspaper reports reveal either an alarming level of incompetence, which would lead you to ask fundamental questions about the Green Party’s fitness for government, or a determined and deliberate attempt to prevent scrutiny of their policies for fear of voters beginning to understand their real implications. The extraordinary attempts of Jenny Jones to prevent Bennett from answering questions on her radio interviews were bad enough, as if attempting to airbrush them from recent political history like some functionary of a former East European regime. But opening your press conference by saying ‘ You can ask as many questions as you like about our manifesto but we won’t be answering them’ is frankly insulting. It shows a patronising disregard for the intelligence of voters who deserve more respect and less contempt.
Earlier this month, the respected political commentator Phil Cowley published a thought-provoking article entitled What’s more important to voters? Coherent policy or the chance to ‘send a message’. His broad conclusion is that UKIP voters and Green Party voters are more interested in sending a message than coherent policy. That may well be true, but I would appeal to Green Party voters to apply themselves to looking at what they are really voting for.
The events of yesterday suggest that the Green Party is far more dangerous than UKIP. Programmes like Meet The Ukippers leave no room for doubt about the nasty, small-minded politics of UKIP. The Green Party however attempts to present itself as a reasonable political party. They pretend to have a magic wand to wave to address the very real concerns of people who are disenchanted with the three main political parties. Ironically, the way they are conducting themselves they are guilty of more cynical deception than any of them.
February 24th revealed that there is no substance to the Green Party’s policies. Instead, Bennett and co fling promises about like so much political fly paper, hoping voters will stick. Scratch the respectable veneer of environmental concerns and you discover that the Greens are inconsistent and authoritarian fantasists who pay lip service to terms like ‘costed manifesto’ and ‘human rights’. In reality they play fast and loose with the very real concerns of people who are seeking to balance the various demands of their lives with ensuring we live in a world in which we protect our natural environment and use our resources sustainably.
In an election where there is so much uncertainty and so much is at risk, particularly the country’s economic stability and recovery, the cynicism with British voters regard their political classes needs to extend to ensuring the Green Party’s vacuous and potentially dangerous policies receive much-needed scrutiny.
Thoughtful blog piece here that rightly argues that supporters of the European Union need to start making the case for membership in positive terms. The negative effects of withdrawing of course need highlighting, but proponents have spent far too long trying to scare people instead of persuade them of the benefits of working together. At a time of renewed Russian expansionism, when there are fast-growing and volatile global markets emerging, and at a time when environmental concerns are back at the top of the political agenda, it should not be a hard case to make.
In terms of the UKIP documentary, I suspect that most of the complaints were from UKIP supporters. I suspect they don’t like the flashlight of public exposure being shone on a lot of the unpleasantness that is otherwise disguised by trying to use the same political lingua franca of the three main parties.
Earlier this week Channel Four screened UKIP – The first 100 days, a mockumentary looking at what might possibly happen in the (somewhat unlikely) event of Nigel Farage becoming Prime Minister in May.
Not surprisingly, it generated a lot of controversy, although I suspect that many of the complaints will have come from UKIP members. Personally, I was disappointed with the programme. I felt that the odd mix of satire (Neil Hamilton as Deputy PM!) and drama simply didn’t work and that the whole thing felt like it had been thrown together quickly without too much thought.
It does however raise the question of UK membership of the European Union and the fact that we seem destined to have a referendum on the issue at some point over the next couple of years. Most business and political leaders seem to feel that uncertainty over our EU membership…
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Very funny spoof. Though only very funny if you don’t think too much about it and realise how true much of it is true.
The Huffington Post has published another satirical piece on the Kippers. This time it’s the BBC’s Shipping Forecast, describing the weather as announced by UKIP. It’s called ‘Rain, Moderate Or Gay’: Listen To The All-New Ukip Shipping Forecast, and it’s at: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2015/02/17/ukip-shipping-forecast_n_6696828.html?utm_hp_ref=tw.